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Technical Article   HowTo:  Import XY data tables to ArcMap and convert the data to a shapefile

Article ID: 27589
Software:  ArcGIS - ArcEditor 8.3, 8.1, 8.1.2, 8.2, 9.0, 9.1, 9.2, 9.3, 9.3.1, 10 ArcGIS - ArcInfo 8.2, 9.0, 8.0.1, 8.0.2, 8.1, 8.1.2, 8.3, 9.1, 9.2, 9.3, 9.3.1, 10 ArcGIS - ArcView 8.3, 8.1, 8.1.2, 8.2, 9.0, 9.1, 9.2, 9.3, 10, 9.3.1 ArcGIS for Desktop Advanced 10.2, 10.1, 10.2.1, 10.3, 10.2.2 ArcGIS for Desktop Basic 10.2, 10.2.1, 10.3, 10.2.2, 10.1 ArcGIS for Desktop Standard 10.2.1, 10.1, 10.2, 10.2.2, 10.3
Platforms: N/A


The steps below give instructions for formatting XY data, in decimal degrees, using Microsoft Excel, and converting these data to a shapefile or geodatabase feature class in ArcMap.

There are several table formats that ArcMap can read to bring point data into ArcMap as an event theme.

 At version 9.1 and earlier, ArcMap can read the following formats: DBase III, DBase IV, .prn, .txt, and .csv. If they exist, extra sheets must be deleted from these formats in Excel.

 At version 9.2 and later versions, ArcMap can read the above formats along with .xls and .xlsx spreadsheets.


  1. To ensure ArcMap reads the data in the file correctly, use Excel to format the columns containing the Longitude (X, or Easting) and Latitude (Y, or Northing) values as NUMBER, with a minimum of 8 decimal places. -show me-

    The graphic below shows the distribution of positive and negative values for longitude (X) and latitude (Y) coordinates worldwide.
    [O-Image] Decimal degree coordinates and signs
  2. Descriptions of the contents of each column are also required in the output file. Label columns ID, Longitude, Latitude, Description, etc.
  3. After formatting the file, select all the cells in populated rows and columns in the table and navigate to File > Print Area > Set Print Area, or Page Layout > Print Area > Set Print Area.
  4. Navigate to File > Save As, and select a supported format from the choices available in Excel. Click Yes if Excel warns that certain formatting is not supported in this file format.
  5. Exit Excel. Click No when Excel prompts to save the changes.
     If the changes are saved, Excel converts the file to an .xls or .xlsx Workbook that can only be used in ArcMap at version 9.2 and newer versions.

  6. To add the data from the .dbf, .csv, .txt or .prn file to ArcMap, navigate to Tools > Add XY Data and select the file. In version 10.x, click the Add Data button.
  7. Right-click the table name and select 'Display XY Data'.

     At version 10.x, ArcMap applies the coordinate system of the Data Frame to the XY Data. This coordinate system is likely to be wrong for the data.

    Click the Edit button to open the Spatial Reference Properties dialog box. Click the Select button to select a coordinate system for the data.

     If a warning message regarding the missing Object-ID field is displayed, it is safe to ignore it and click OK. -show me-


    As an example, GPS data is most often collected in units of decimal degrees or lat/long, which is a geographic coordinate system. Open this directory. Most frequently, GPS data is collected on the WGS 1984 datum, so open the World folder, and select WGS_1984.prj.

    If the data has been collected on a different datum, click the link titled "Geographic Coordinate Systems and Areas of Use" in the Related Information section below to find the appropriate datum.
  8. After defining the projection, click Add, Apply, and OK on the Spatial Reference Properties dialog box. Click OK on the Add XY Data dialog box. The points are drawn as an event theme in ArcMap. Verify that the Event theme aligns with the other data in ArcMap.

     If the data does not align with the reference data, refer to Knowledge Base article 29129, titled Identify the spatial reference, projection, or coordinate system of data.

  9. To convert the event theme to a shapefile or geodatabase feature class, right-click the file name and select Data > Export Data. The points can be exported to a geodatabase feature class or to a shapefile.
  10. The data can also be re-projected to the coordinate system of the ArcMap data frame during this process. Go to View > Data Frame Properties > Coordinate System tab, and select the desired output projection for the output data. To project while exporting, right-click the Events theme, select Data > Export Data, and change the radio button to export to the "coordinate system of the data frame". The output data is in the selected output coordinate system.
  11. If ArcMap warns of a "different geographic coordinate system than other data in the map", navigate to View > Data Frame Properties > Coordinate System tab, and click the Transformations button to verify that the correct datum transformation is being used for the area where the data is located. For a list of geographic (datum) transformations and their areas of use, click the link "Select the correct geographic (datum) transformation when projecting between datums". Under the Related Information section of the article, download the list of transformations for the version of ArcGIS Desktop installed on the computer.

Related Information

Created: 9/1/2004
Last Modified: 8/24/2015

Article Rating: (4)
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By - 03/17/2015 10:54 AM

The article is incorrect or the solution didn’t work.

Hello, I have been following the instruction to import lat/long data from an .xls file into ArcMAP 10.2.2. After I complete the "Display XY Data" fields and Click OK, I get an error message saying that the Object ID field is not specified and I only see a single data point on the map (as opposed to 35). The other articles I find tell me that excel files cannot support Object ID and it has been very confusing to determine the implications of the lack of ObjectID on this Data Import process. I really think this article should have some supporting information to help the user learn about the relevance of the Object ID to this process. Thanks, Amber


By Greg7497 - 09/12/2014 2:43 PM

Other - See details below.

This article has been updated.

By alex116 - 02/16/2012 1:06 PM

Other - See details below.

in ArcGIS 10 go to File>Add Data>Add XY Data


By bodomalo - 02/13/2012 2:28 AM

I would like to see a new article that discusses the topic outlined below.

Same here, HOW can I do it in Arcgis 10? Your articles are somehow completely useless :-( Why telling people that this will not working with Arcgis 10 and do not give ANY hint what to do.


By tseeepra - 06/15/2011 11:59 PM

The article needs to be updated.

So how can I do this in ArcGIS 10? The whole 'Tools' menu has been deleted.


By Anonymous - 01/24/2007 9:01 AM

I followed the article’s instructions, but experienced another problem. I’ve provided details below.

The article is OK and the system works to import the data into ArcMap, but I am having difficulty at the "Display x / y data" stage. The basic objective is to import Excel data into an ArcMap project. This I do by saving the Excel spreadsheet as a Dbase4 table as per the instructions in the article above. In ArcMap 9.0, I import by the "ADD DATA" button; navigate to the folder and select the Dbase table. This imports OK and the table appears in the menu on the left-hand side of the screen. To d

By Anonymous - 09/21/2006 5:57 AM

Other - See details below.

The article is useful, but it's less troublesome to use ArcCatalog to create the shapefile: by right clicking on the dbf (or supported table) select "create feature class/from xy table" and you get right away your file. This avoids the intermediate step of creating an event theme (which I don't see the purpose of it in this case). Regards Eugenio Marcano